I’m so sorry, so please just go away

I said sorry, so please go away.

You’re only a figment of my imagination-

A cruel, crude copy of someone more than 2000 miles away;

But you know too well how to guilt trip me.

Over and over again,

You get into the deepest of my wounds

To remind what happened that day with you.

I did nothing wrong, and the same with you-

(I mean, the real you,)

But I’m having to suffer over and over again at the

Imaginary awkwardness, pain, embarrassment, lonliness that I felt in my head

This helps me and my life zero percent.

I said I’m so sorry. Please accept that and go away.

Wounded inner child

People with Complex PTSD, or those with experience with “mini traumas” don’t often validate the cause of their suffering. It’s easy to dismiss because looking at it chronologically, day by day, nothing really happens, but cumulatively, it’s like little water droplets that crack open a rock over time. A little bit of yelling here, snide remark there, bit of physical violence, bullying, confrontation here and there- this breaks a child’s spirit over time. It also affects her self esteem, confidence, ability to play and enjoy life, interaction with people without anxiety, to name a few.

I used to be one of them. I denied that I was ill from what happened as a child within my family unit. It was seemingly uneventful, my childhood. Not one single event was extremely significant. But overtime, the little things shaped me. It shaped me to be afraid, to be cautious, and not trusting. And because I am so close to my parents now and am dependent on them, I didn’t want to see them as one of the reasons why I’m sick. Even after they have owned and apologized for their behavior (not that their intentions were malicious, and their apologies uncalled for), I didn’t want to connect what happened to me as a child to how I am now as an adult.

Today in therapy, we were exploring this concept of “inner child” that is often spoken about in psychology. I actually laughed out loud when my therapist, C told me to literally “speak to my inner child” when I was alone. So far everything she recommended I do has worked, so I wasn’t going to question it until I’ve tried it at least a few times. I was confused about what kinds of things to say to her (my inner child)- I supposed nice things. C said I was to tell her that she was enough, and she deserve a relaxing break, that she can trust herself and so on. C said this was a way of retraining my mind, becoming nurturing and self compassionate.

The problem is, I kind of suck at being self compassionate. If I took a class on it, I would get an F even if I studied. I did a lot of mindfulness activities in various forms, like meditation, DBT modules etc. but for some reason it felt disingenuous. I don’t mean the concept of mindfulness itself, but just how I personally feel when doing those activities. I feel like I’m being a phony and wasting my time. I also fear that I will get thoroughly lazy if I get too good at it. C says that this stuff will naturally take a while to feel comfortable doing, because I didn’t grow up this way- the little I remember of my childhood, I remember spending hours and hours with tutors and being extremely busy doing something productive every second. I existed to fulfill a purpose, and not be a person- no one treated me any differently either, no relatives or any other adult in my life. Of course relaxing feels uncomfortable!

My next project is to sit still without doing anything (not even meditation) for half an hour and not give into the urge to do something productive, including analyzing my thoughts. This also has to be completely spontaneous.

Why you should choose your therapist based on your common cultural experience if you’re multicultural

There has been some good progress on my end. First off, sleep has been the best it’s ever been since I first started to see symptoms of bipolar depression. That means I slept through the night for eight hours straight. This is a huge step forward for me (as well as a hopeful sign of improvement,) because the last time I slept through the night without some kind of a tranquilizer (Ativan mostly), consecutively for two days, was over a year ago. Every night, I was haunted by insomnia, night terror, anxiety and other bizarre sleep problems that kept my brain wide awake in the middle of the night. The second is what I’m working on in therapy. I’m starting to piece together the “why” I am this way. Why the hell im sick. If you’ve been reading since the inception of my blog, then you know how I was triggered into having my first full blown episode because of work related stress- but it’s never that simple for bipolar disorder like other brain disorders.  It wasn’t just work and it wasn’t just the stress. There are just so many reasons, contributing factors both immediate, and long term that affects the brain, that it’s impossible to pinpoint one specific event or cause. However, it’s still important to understand why, for the sake of closure, acceptance and to do things differently the next time. In short, I think my disorder came about because of my quiet, agreeable and disciplined disposition coupled by difficulties that followed the unilateral decisions made by my caregivers that are in no way ill-intentioned. More concretely, I was a quiet kid, who followed rules and who tried to do things right, without offending or angering anyone she cared about. My parents separated when I was ten years old, but rather discreetly- and the only way they kept things together was by living very far from each other. My mother and I moved to Canada, where we had no family, without speaking English. My dad and the rest of my extended family stayed back home, in Korea. I was enrolled in school, so I picked up the language pretty quickly. Soon I had to fill the role of the adult in the household because my mother wasn’t as lucky with getting assimilated into the culture. Paying bills, writing letters, making calls, filing complaints, and making informed decisions. When I was absent from school, I wrote my own letter of absence to take it to school. This is probably a common theme for first generation immigrants- you have no room for mistakes, rebellion, or misbehavior. There is no time to indulge in complaints, or laze around, be a kid. As a minority immigrant, you work double what the others do to get to where they are in society, in the new world- and that’s what I knew since I was ten years old. It doesn’t matter much if you were middle class, upper class or lower middle back in the old country, you’re on your own to establish who you are. Growing up, I never felt safe in my home with just me and my mother. I was a violinist, so every time I practiced which was everyday, an angry neighbor surreptitiously came up and kicked our door. I got hate letters from one of my so called friends who wished I went to hell- my mom and I figured she was jealous despite our temporary, shabby looking situation, I was able to go to music school. There was bullying involved, both at school and online. There are other mistreatments, racism, hatred, abuse that came with living in a foreign country with just one other adult who couldn’t really take care of you, or protect you as family should. This is in no way to blame my parents- they were doing the best they could in their given situation. It was not unusual to send your kids abroad to English speaking counties if your family was affluent. But the fact of the matter is, I’ve developed PTSD from the anxiety filled life where I cried under my blankets every night in silence to not upset my mother, and where I put on a brace face every morning. Every year, we had to make a decision to stay in Canada or go back to the old country- and that meant a) no stability, and b) living in rental apartments that were hardly furnished. I never felt tethered to a place, and I felt that I was temporary. This meant that I was always making up my back story to new people I met, and that meant that I wasn’t inviting anyone over. Family holidays were truncated to summers when I went back to my real home, where dad and the rest of the family were, and thanksgiving and Christmas were spent eating chicken because turkeys were too big for a party of two. There is much more but I’ll stop myself from getting flooded. These memories were so disturbing that I had suppressed most of it until I started psychotherapy with my current therapist. It helps that she is a first generation immigrant herself from the same country that I am from, and knows the hurdles and difficulties. Before her, people either envied the position I was in, or just had no clue what I was going through. I learned that choosing the right therapist is so very crucial, because if they don’t know where you’re coming from through experience, they won’t understand the source of the problem, and they won’t be able to help. One can read thousands of books on someone’s culture and study anthropology, but an armchair anthropologist can only know so much.

My multicultural situation is pretty unique, and I realize that when dealing with a mental disorder that is already complicated, a complicated life story makes it even harder to discuss with another person and still get all the cultural nuisances right. There is still more to dig, but I’m happy that I’m able to remember some of my so called childhood and feel validated for the first time in my life.

My relationship with food

Trying to play a character in your life isn’t a fun way to live, even if you love the theater. I’m only saying this in hindsight of course, I didn’t know that there was another way to live until very recently. I was the misfit who wanted to be normal- the girl who always did the “right” thing, the one who gets the guy, the girl who has the shiny career, the girl who doesn’t offend anyone but is rather pleasing to talk to. Some may see her as almost bland, uninteresting- but she fit into something (a stereotype). However, you can only run away from yourself for so long. And I found out again today during group that it has done me no good during a mindfulness eating exercise, of all the places.

A mindfulness eating exercise can be googled quite easily, but in a nutshell, it is an exercise where you only focus on your eating, and the food itself. You observe the color, how it looks, and how it feels inside your mouth and so on. (I have to stop here because it’s triggering.) During this exercise, I had the most unexpected panic attack that went from 1 to 9 (10 being the most severe). I usually can see my panic attacks rising gradually, and often can dig myself out of that hole using several distractions or mindfulness skills before it gets to a ten, but I was in the deep before I could search my mind for a distraction. I ran out of group to avoid further embarrassment and just bawled my eyes out without realizing what just happened.

For the exercise- every second of it was torture. Feeling the cantaloupe in my mouth, cold, soft and mushy,  and the different tastes you don’t expect from a cantaloupe (e.g. cucumber), and just the sensation itself of being aware that you had to swallow the thing after chewing it almost made me barf. And I do not dislike fruit. During feedback, everyone explained how exquisite the experience was, and how much more they appreciated food now that they have done this for the first time. This was of course, the expected response coming out of this mindfulness activity. Mine was very different. I was almost in tears, about to throw up, and very close to some unpleasant thoughts. The group leader had to sit with me for a few minutes to calm me down with some breathing techniques until I could feel like I could come back to normal. I realized after that this was how, in medical literature, they describe what PTSD feels like, when triggered.

Since I was a child, I never had a good relationship with food as far as I could remember. It was much worse than bad, it was traumatizing. I always thought (and still think,) why hasn’t someone made a pill to substitute for eating? It would be so much easier, more efficient, and less painful. Allow me to explain: back in the old country where I grew up, I went to kindergarten/daycare that provided lunch every single day. I never had a great appetite, and always felt shameful that I didn’t enjoy food more, and was shamed for eating so little all the time by my mother, and the rest of the adult population because people are very blunt where I come from. (An example: they would say hi, and comment on how scrawny I look and I should eat more as a legitimate, love-filled greeting.)  In kindergarten, I was force fed for many years because I would not eat the lunch that was provided. I would sit there with my food, while the other children ate quickly and had extra play time. When lunch was almost over, and everyone who had finished eating had gone to play except me, usually an adult came over to put the cold rice into the cold soup or stew of the day to make their job as the forcefeeder easier (which made it more disgusting than they had been when both menu items were hot), let it sit there for a while so the rice doubled in size (yuck, more food to eat), and if I really didn’t eat after they “helped” to mix the rice with the liquid thing, they would forced it down on me and punished me if I didn’t eat. Every single day. I never squeaked about this to my mother because, as a child, I was afraid of her, and thought I would be further shamed for not eating and being willful.

Since then, I grew up- found out that food and sports are the only viable topics in the workplace that doesn’t arouse suspicion (that you’re weird), or uncomfortable feelings about the people you work for, due the personal nature of opinions, and make you sound wholesome (in other words, not political or have anger management problems. This is different after the advent of Trump, obviously. Anger is a valid feeling at the workplace in modern America. Sigh.) I lied countless times about having a favorite dish. I lied about enjoying eating, and going out to eat. In my defense, I was only being polite, and I was starting to believe the lies. One lie followed another, and it was starting to become real, and I was starting to think that I was “growing out” of it. My parents saw that I improved in the eating department, and they were so happy that I was “normal” again. Why did I do this? Well, I felt like I was connecting to people in a very non racist, non culturally specific and genuinely human way by talking about food (more on this later), except, I was in disguise the whole time. I was acting as the well-adjusted, healthy and happy person with zero problems in her life, and I was so convincing that I convinced myself and everyone around me. I was faking it until I made it. Well, I made it into PTSD.

This is a story in progress, and I am still having a hard time processing what this is, what it means, and if this is an eating disorder or not since I don’t have and never really had severe body image problems that affected my eating.

Like they say, the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. (And kick you in the face until you lose your teeth… sorry, too graphic.)